Friday, April 10, 2020

Friday's Bookshelf Travels: Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia and Burnett

We had snow falling off and on all day long. But it did not accumulate. Wild and wooly walking the dog through it, though!
Can you believe this is Week Four of Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times? I sure can't. I was finally able to buy a very small steak for the two of us, our first piece of beef in weeks. It's been hard up here. Because so many people who have vacation homes are now here, the grocery stores have not been able to meet the increased demand at a time that was not expected. Oh yeah, we expect it in July. But not now.
And I certainly don't mind people from NYC or New Jersey or Long Island or Pennsylvania who have fled their homes to come here, but I DO MIND the ones who travel back and forth, back and forth to their homes in the city and then back here again and again! People who live on my road. If you come, please stay put and don't travel for our sakes. We absolutely do not have the hospital resources that NYC has. As one local public health official put it, "You can come, but don't expect the hospital services you would get in the city. If you get sick, you will be straining our very, very limited health services. Amen!
That's quite enough of my rant for a Good Friday.
To the topic:
Another bookcase in my bedroom is seven feet tall and solid oak. While I'm getting dressed in the morning, I gaze at the books, allowing my eyes to focus on those I haven't thought about recently. I also think of those I have yet to read. I exchange the books here much more often than is the case with  my other bookcases.

On one of the middle shelves, the fifth hardcover edition of Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia sits. It's 1,200 pages, is reference-book size, and is "a completely revised and updated edition of the bestselling encyclopedia of classic and contemporary world literature." It was published in 2008 and is the most recent edition.
My older brother gave me the first edition for Christmas when I was 19 or so, although it was not a first printing. I fell in love with it immediately, and I still have it, with his inscription. About ten years ago, I picked up a paperback copy of the third edition at a library book sale for a dollar. And the fifth I bought at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont, on a day trip to celebrate my birthday about ten years ago. If you ever, ever find yourself in southern Vermont, do honor your bookish self and make a beeline to this MECCA of bookstores. I assure you, it cannot possibly disappoint!
The individual entries in Benet's discuss authors of all genres of literature, important or classic titles of works, famed literary sites and their significance, important battles and historic events, religions, philosophies and schools of thought, literary movements, etc.
Here are some entries from a typical page:
 Charles Bukowski, a 20th-century American poet and novelist; Mikhail Bulgakov, the Russian playwright and novelist, who became famous after the Russian Revolution; Ed Bullins, American playwright, novelist, and poet; and Silvina Bullrich, one of Argentina's best-known novelists. There is even an entry for Mr. Bumble, the character in Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist, and an entry for Natty Bumppo, the central figure in James Fenimore Cooper's series of books known as The Leatherstocking Tales.
It seems that the 5th edition is out of print, although used copies are available. I wonder if there will ever be a 6th edition, because reference books of this type are tending to not be published any more. Sigh! Although  it's true that all of this information is available quickly on the internet, it is not possible to browse Wikipedia by the letter B or C or Q.  Much of the pleasure of this book is browsing. And finding new authors, new reading material, etc.

Yesterday, from the same bookshelf, I lovingly took down Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, both illustrated by the New England illustrator Tasha Tudor (1915-2008). These two editions of the older classics, were both published in the early 1960s. But the two I own today are not the ones I owned as a child. Those latter volumes went with me when I started teaching sixth grade, to place on the classroom bookshelves for students to borrow. After ten years, when I left teaching, they were in pretty bad shape.
So about thirteen years ago, I contacted a rare books seller in Saratoga Springs to help me find "Fine" replacements, with dustcovers intact. He had no problem with that, I didn't spend more than $30 per book, and the stories and especially the illustrations that meant so much to me as a 10- to 12-year old came home in all their glory to live with me again.


  1. I'd not heard of your Reader's Encyclopedia I must admit, it sounds absolutely wonderful. And funnily enough in 1996 we did find ourselves in Southern Vermont! How strange. If we ever go back I will certainly look for that bookshop.

    I'm late again with my Insane post, no idea what I've been doing today. Tomorrow.

  2. Well, Cath, if you find the week's end catching up on you, you're in good company. I'm as busy now as I've ever been. Ken is repairing and upgrading every appliance and electrical item in the house, and I've been doing loads of decluttering, cleaning, and laundering amidst walking our canine best friend. And you have a garden to prepare! That's a lot to do.

  3. The Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia would be a really fun book to browse through. Probably any edition would be good.

    Those editions of The Secret Garden and The Little Princess sound so nice. When I was in 5th or 6th grade our teacher read The Secret Garden to our class. I would like to read that one. Not sure about The Little Princess.

  4. Hi Judith, I'd not heard of your Reader's Encyclopedia before either. It does look fascinating and very useful. I'm late too with my post -I just don't know why it seems as though I have less time than before now that we're in isolation! But it does.

    Your copy of The Secret Garden is in much better condition than my own battered and much read paperback, but it is the copy I had as a child. Maybe I'll take a photo of it for next week's post!

    Here's my Insane post for this week -

    1. Hi Margaret,
      Thanks so much for sharing all the books that help you conquer all sorts of word games! I love word games, too. What surprised me the most is that there are books that offer HELP and advice and strategies for becoming a better player. I'm inspired!
      The Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia is published in the U.S., although it includes lots of info about UK authors, poets, etc., so I'm not surprised that you don't know about it. I also have the Oxford Companion to English Literature, which you may be more familiar with. I like the Benet's because it gives such a broad perspective on world literature.

  5. Hi Judith, I thought I had commented here but in my state of mind who knows. I am interested in the Benet Reader's Encyclopedia and would probably enjoy reading any edition. Also a teacher read The Secret Garden to my class in 5th or 6th grade and I would love to read that again.

    I hope all is well with you and Ken.

    1. Hi Tracy,
      This is a wonderful time of year to read The Secret Garden, because it is set in springtime, from very, very early spring to the full fruition of June.
      I just ordered the Inga Moor illustrated edition of The Secret Garden, which is breathtakingly beautiful. Can't wait for this edition to arrive and to sink into the world of those wondrous illustrations.
      You might get a kick of looking online to see which edition is available at a price you want to pay. Lots are out there. But I notice, though, that very few of the latest edition are available, and which is out of print, alas!
      Ken and I are doing well, but I think Ken will mutiny if he doesn't get a pizza soon. It's been a month for him. Maybe I can figure out how to make one, but I'm not really into pizza, so my heart's not in it.

  6. I used to love and covet encyclopedias pre-internet days! I have the Miriam Webster Encyclopedia of Literature from 1995 that I used to consult all the time or simply just read. I just pulled it out ( was pretty dusty) for fun and looked up Bukowski. I also have an encyclopedia of World Religions, American History, Mythology... Of course now, we have all that at our fingertips. But we have to triple check the source, right? There is so much on line which is inaccurate.

    Every now and again, you see a whole set of encyclopedias at library book sales and I am always tempted to buy the far I have resisted.

    1. Hi Ruthiella,
      Unfortunately quick look-ups on the internet cannot compete with the reference works that abounded pre-2010. The latter were penned by academics in their field of expertise, so please do continue to consult your older reference books. This is certainly true of Benet's, and is true for all the Oxford Companions, and for other references.
      Encyclopedias are a totally different kettle of fish, on the other hand. Old encyclopedias are next to worthless. The reasons why would take me longer to explain than you or I would have time for.
      I speak with experience, because I spent decades writing and editing reference books, the writing being in my field of 19th century American women's history. The reference book field has changed more than any other over the past fifteen years!

  7. Some vacation destination spots are having the same problems here. And a few of them are islands; people are coming and buying up all the food and there's not enough left for the people who live there. I just don't get the lack of human consideration. Fortunately if you're not compromised even if you get COVID, it should be mild. I can't imagine what would happen if a virus arrived that adversely affected a whole range of people indiscriminately. Yikes!

    That encyclopedia looks like fun! I once read a book where a lady from the U.S. took a tour of Britain and visited a number of locations from well-known British children's books. It gave me a whole new list of books to read. Enjoy your explorations!

    1. Hi Cleo,
      I live in New York State, the state which is the epicenter for the virus in the world, which I'm sure you've heard about.
      My husband is immuno-compromised because of the medications he takes to suppress his MS symptoms, and I must be very careful as well because he's 72. I'm afraid to say that it hasn't proven to be the case that only people with "underlying conditions" have severe cases of the virus. Doctors here have been very puzzled by young people in their teens, twenties, and thirties having severe cases.
      And yes, about those "mild" cases. People with COVID-19 have reported, especially journalists who have had it, say that even though their illness was considered "mild," they were sicker than they have ever been with any illness in their lifetimes. And, of course, there are those people who suffer truly very mild symptoms.

  8. I'm glad you managed to find good copies of beloved books. I'm very fond of illustrated children's books and have multiple copies of some classics. My eldest son taught himself to read using an Oxford illustrated children's encyclopedia that someone had given him when he was 2, which I thought was a daft gift for a 2 year old! Probably such things don't exist now.

    1. I so loved my Golden Children's Book Encyclopedia A-Z. I read them in the early mornings before school when I was 7-9 years old. I started at A, worked my way through to Z, at which point I would start all over again. (I was a very early riser and not allowed to leave my room until my mother got up at 6:45 am.)
      And how interesting and how smart your son was to teach himself to read an encyclopedia. I ate the stuff up. Animals, stories about each state in the union, info about every country, loads of history and maps, etc. Really cool. My mother bought them at the supermarket for 99 cents a piece, once she found out I loved them.
      You know, I think it's possible that this kind of book exists now. Perhaps not as an encyclopedia in volumes, but similar books. And every library here has online children's encyclopedias available.